Wines You Can’t Pronounce Are Hidden Gems

Say After Me, Pacherenc du-Vic-Bilh


I was strolling down the wine aisle last week when my eyes settled on a label. It sent me loopy! Its cute line drawing of an ancient castle drew my attention but those words...those unpronounceable words…Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh! If I’m struggling to cope imagine what poor Joe and Josephine Public are thinking, was my first thought. Where’s the wine from, what’s the grape, is it dry, sweet or medium? It’s a brave guy that takes this bottle off the shelf. The pity is, this sweet wine is well worth taking home. Just in case you’re wondering, the wine in front of me was Chateau Arricau-Bordes, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.

The wine comes from south-west France; Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is located in the same production area as Madiran, not a million miles from Toulouse, the nearest landmark to the east. The Madiran vineyards are well known for their red wines (made from the Tannat grape) whereas Pacherenc du Vic Bilh is relatively unknown; the simple rule is, Madiran’s the name for the red wines of the region, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is the name for the whites. Pacherenc’ is from an ancient word meaning ‘vines’ whilst Vic-Bilh relates to the ‘supporting stakes’, we’re told. Are we any wiser? Probably not but getting to know this wine a little better will bring rewards.
The grapes that make Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh sweeties are Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, the local varieties that respond admirably to the clay limestone soils. The grapes are left on the vines past the normal harvest date and into the autumn when the warm dry days and the drying winds work their magic to concentrate the sugars, making the grapes look more raisin-like as the autumn lengthens.

A series of hand picked selections take place from the end of October to the end of December ensuring the sweet grapes are carefully picked at the optimum time and that the wine takes on its wonderful apricot and candied fruit aromas and flavours. As with all top sweeties, having enough acidity to balance the sugar is the key; happily Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh sweeties have a crisp, zippy acidity so there are no cloying sugars on the finish of this Southern Belle.

If you see a dry version of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh on your local shelf grab it. Made from the same grape varieties, it’s much lighter than its sweet counterpart but, as the grapes were picked during August and September it carries an extra kick of acidity. Intriguingly, dry ‘PVB’ still boasts the grapes’ attractive floral aromas.

So, back to the sweet wine … ignore the complicated label, clock the wonderful golden colour through the clear bottle and pour yourself a glass of this cracking sweetie … ‘bet you’ll pour a second!

John Downes, one of only 340 Masters of Wine in the world is a corporate entertainer,cspeaker, television and radio broadcaster and writer on wine. Check out John’s website at Follow him on Twitter @JOHNDOWNESMW

Read more from John Downes’ acclaimed NOBULL wine column here.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 833

    And here I thought Bergerac was obscure!

    Sep 06, 2016 at 3:16 PM

  • Snooth User: Isaac42
    98135 33

    How is one to know if the wine is sweet or dry?

    Sep 07, 2016 at 3:35 PM

  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Isaac42, the sweet editions will say "moelleux" on the label, and the dry will say "sec." Google Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, then look click on "images," and you'll see zillions of labels. Take a look at a few, and you'll see those crucial words!

    Sep 16, 2016 at 1:51 PM

  • Snooth User: Isaac42
    98135 33


    Sep 16, 2016 at 2:54 PM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network